Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Floating Object
The Guild Collection – Series I – 2012
August 7 - Sept. 4, 2012

Gieve Patel                Gulammohammed Sheikh
K. P. Reji                   Prajakta Potnis
Sudhir Patwardhan      Sumedh Rajendran
Tushar Joag                Zakkir Hussain

The Guild presents, 'A floating Object', The Guild Collection - Series I- 2012 an exhibit from the permanent collection of The Guild. Works presented in this series include the works of Gieve Patel, Gulammohammed Sheikh, K. P. Reji, Prajakta Potnis, Sudhir Patwardhan, Sumedh Rajendran, Tushar Joag and Zakkir Hussain.

Renuka Sawhney, in an essay for the exhibit, says,

The effort of the exhibit is to extend multiplicity and simultaneity to the collection of works herein. They are not linked by a linear narrative, concept or theme. However they are bordered by the walls of the space within which they are simultaneously exhibited, and are also therefore free to activate the space they inhabit, free to associate with other works, as incongruent absurdities in relation to one another, or as organic unwanted growth, as interruptions of hierarchies or a discordant strum of poetic logic, unfolding in privately held time or publically and collectively acknowledged time. They provide multiple visions, spaces, and narratives.
'A Floating Object' is first of a series of exhibits that allow the gallery space to activate itself as a museum space by the contextualization of the works from the gallery’s permanent collection. The exhibit postulates a floating object in a transitional space with each work as a discrete center.
On view till September 4, 2012


A Floating Object

In his speech to the International Congress of Aesthetics in 2007, Gulammohammed Sheikh says, referring to the folios that comprised of the Hamza Nama

The most striking example of the Mughal experiment are the large folios of Hamza Nama in which about a hundred artists worked over a period of fifteen years (1562-1577) to illustrate Persian tales of a rebel who is often identified with the uncle to the Prophet. Despite the Perso-Arabic location of the narrative, which also includes exploits of the hero in distant lands, the stories are totally set in the Indian context, with local flora and fauna, architecture, and dramatis personae derived from a variety of racial types. What is most significant is the fact that the collective nature of the work does not result in a cacophonic collage, but projects an image of multiple visions, each in relation to as well as independent from the others. For instance, the tenor of loud faience patterns matches the animated intensity of figures, keeping the spatial planes alive with resilient tensions. This reveals in some respects a quality of life – of living together of communities, each with a definite view of the world in dialectic interaction with the other. Difference is not a sign of disorder or disunity.’[i]

Gulam’s works have explored multiplicities and simultaneity[ii]. He says,

My interest in these forms triggered the exploration of multiple portrayals, without a linear sequentiality, with an intrinsic order that would hold it all together. So if you worked with a frame as I did, the question was how to break it, and bring multiple stories within its borders with several entries and exists, to enable the viewer to enter from one story into the other: either from the point he chose or the points that the paintings would suggest.[iii]
In taking a leaf from the works of Gulam, this exhibition is structured outward. Threads are drawn from the center of each work, reaching outward to link with other centers but are not intended to form a composite whole. The works themselves form a center from which planes and angles emerge that may or may not coincide with the planes and angles emanating from other works. Gulam’s Mappa-mundi series is based on the Ebstorf Map, itself created sometime in the thirteenth century, is an example of a Medieval European map of the world. In the ancient map, the known world is represented with a circle and perspective within the map -of the people, places, roads and animals that inhabit this world- is geared towards the eye of the viewer. In the same manner, Gulam’s Mappa-mundi also shifts perspective toward the eye of the viewer. As such Gulam’s work however, incorporates several openings, spaces between the roads and pathways into which the viewer walks and finds that hilltops are leaning toward bottom, while in another section, one sees cranes hanging upside down. In the center, a fort like building, painted in by Gulam, interrupts a panoramic photograph of Jerusalem, while underneath Japanese trees extend downwards like roots into soil. The image of the map thus incorporates multiple images seen from multiple perspectives, in one place delineated by the circle formed around them.

This ‘opening of an image in time’ [iv]also subjects time to a border as indicated by the circle, suggesting perhaps that this world and all its components are this world, and as such despite the border around its elements send the idea of time in several directions at once. In other words simultaneity extends not only to the multiple images but also to the time they inhabit, indicating that time is both a wave and a particle to paraphrase the theory of light.

Rather like the notes of The Waste Land, the works of Gulam should come with footnotes and references. Much like the poem (which is now widely regarded as incomplete without footnotes) however, the multitude of images, stories, lives and times in Gulam’s works speak in several voices and in a multitude of languages, underlined by the choices, or rather the non-choices of their author, and communicate the rhythmed nuance or structure that permeates the multiverses he creates within the visual image itself.

The world as it came to me, however, came almost invariably manifold, plural or at least dual in form. In art, painting came in the company of poetry and images from life lived, from other times, from painting, sometimes from literature, and often from nowhere, emerging together through scribbled drawings and words. The multiplicity and simultaneity of these worlds filled me with a sense of being part of them all. Attempts to define the experience in singular terms have left me uneasy and restless; absence of rejected worlds has haunted me throughout.[v]

For Gulam, the experience of living and working in India carries an additional resonance. He says,

‘… (It) means living simultaneously in several cultures and times. One often walks into “medieval” situations, and runs into “primitive” people. The past exists as a living entity alongside the present, each illuminating and sustaining the other. As times and cultures converge, the citadels of purism explode. Traditional and modern, private and public, the inside and outside continually telescope and reunite. The kaleidoscopic flux of images engages me to construe structures in the process of being created.

Like the many-eyed and many-armed archetype of an Indian child, soiled with multiple visions, I draw my energy from the source.[vi]

Gulam has created multiverses that are rooted in historical fact and fiction. Influenced by Sienese painting which was, ‘…an act of love offered with tenderness, humility, and passionate conviction. Every surface of paint simmered with a feeling of touch, with the result that the walls in the paintings smelled of human warmth’. He is also firmly rooted in the nature of multitude of narratives, where the characters and the physical attributes of a location rather than a framework indicate location. So a work is not wholly site specific  (with the exception of City for Sale) in as much as experience based, mingling with specifics related to memory, history, tales and folklore and a leveling of time.

The physicality of the work draws the viewer into the pathways that cross those of the printed image and the painted image and there is a distinct discursive and educational aspect to the work. In particular the physicality of a meandering allows for a contemplation that is natural, and not framed or forced as such, and where the edges of comprehension spread far beyond the visible edges of the paper. The encapsulation of lived experiences, told tales, and narrated fictions are also in part physical recordings of journeys real and imagined, on part of the artist, which we as viewers are invited to take. As such there is also an abstract construct in place that enlarges the parameters of the work by removing any attempt on part of the viewer to envision a linear narrative.

Gulam’s works also have a poetic logic which incorporates, the languages of memory (personal as well as collective), contexts (historical and contemporary) and structures (pictorial and conceptual) coalescing in a unique logic of the imagination, that permits a view of history as without perspective and a mode of composition that does not forget the past but incorporates it and moves beyond it to offer a space of contemplation. Lastly, Gulam’s work goes beyond the limitations of coherent logic while conveying the deep complexity and truth of the hidden phenomenon and impalpable connections of life, while offering us, the viewer the opportunity to discern the lines of the poetic design of being.

Tushar Joag describes himself as a public intervention artist, who uses a combination of satire with an acute sense of the ecosystem within which his chosen subjects – the objects that are both man made and organic - participate. Fiction, fantasy and fabrication abound in his work but also underscore the appropriated mythologies that lend themselves to molded formulation. Tushar draws from comic book figures (superheroes), from the farce of authority (postboxes), from practical concerns to quixotic ones (Shanghai Couch), but more often than not they come together to form composites unconfined by the outer edges of the possible.

In Pests, Joag creates a fantasy that plays with reality in such a way that the former can easily be taken for the latter, but which also recalls visually the vision of filmmaker/director, Guillermo Del Toro mixed in with a healthy dose of farce. Bulldozers with wings populate the skyline, humming one thinks, in anticipation of the planned bulldozing of the building at center of the image, which for its part is trying in vain to escape. The skyline of Mumbai in the background flickers between the leaves and flowers that cover the base of the building in the foreground. The building fa├žade forms a face with its balcony acting as a stretched out mouth, and Mickey Mouse ears cap off its roof. The addition of Mickey Mouse ears to the face of the building recalls the world of Disney which, in the words of John Berger, ‘is charged with vain violence. The ultimate catastrophe is always in the offing.[vii]’ The catastrophe in this case: its demolition. The tilting tower –at the other end of the building, turns into a symbol of the ineptitude of construction, echoing the tower of Pisa, and more specifically the older (Victorian) construction that is particular to the architecture of pre-independence Mumbai. New construction looms in the background. The building balances itself on its two hind feet, which in this case, seem to be taken from the feet of the four lions of the Ashoka Stambh.

Sudhir Patwardhan’s Couple, oil on canvas from 1976, seems to refer to the teeming yet constrictive nature of the people living in Mumbai. In Couple a man and a woman sit side by side, the woman’s torso faces forward while her head faces right, away from the man. The man sits with one hand in his lap and one on the woman’s thigh. Set within the brooding dark background, which offsets the skin of the couple, the portrait of an intimate space, a dark brooding alienating space, echoing repressive sexuality mingled with discontent and stoic acceptance. The skin of the couple is glowing in some parts of the upper torso, the color of golden beetroots in the sun, while in the lower half, deeper yellow ochre. A few sections of the skin ranging from vivid green to bruised and darkened browns and rust, suggests decay, and fear. The work is both evocative and deeply disturbing and presents the couple as figures that speak of isolation and familiarity echoing the nature of the human, as an individual and as a part of a whole, constantly negotiating between the sense of the incomplete and the inevitable.

In Sumedh Rajendran’s collages and sculptures, form creates - even as it morphs with the inorganic - a fluidity that is powerful and precarious. Sculptures mounted on the wall or fabricated within collages attest to the fragility of form in space, and display the gaps between the reaches of each material. The gaps between each material, whether of white background space – usually a wall - or in the case of free standing sculptures, are the breathing nodes of his works. It is through these nodes that Sumedh’s works speak of the incongruence of the objects he assembles, as well as the weight of the material they are fabricated in. His figures are weighted forward and backward to others. They are melded together to sometimes lean on each other. All this occurs without a firm back grounding, and this particular mode activates the space around these figures. It activates a longing for support, alongside the subtle fear of falling over, but more importantly it activates in return the figures and objects. In this particular work, Sumedh activates the space by creating a distant horizon, a looming set of mountains across whose plane the figure of the man and dog, conjoined together are placed at center. The figures are linked to the mountains in the distance by a winding thin line of road.

In Ranjit Hoskote’s essay for the catalogue, ‘Final Call’, Hoskote says,

The objects assembled together to form ‘Final Call’ , although they are developed around the friction between incongruous entities fused together, are deliberately engineered: they are signs of the complex and interdependent life that this planet leads, where every participant in the existential process likely imperil every other.’

 It is the absurdity and the incongruence of the objects used and the material that catches our imagination. Rather than illustrating a specific idea, its function is to startle us with the authentcity of the actions inherent in the associations between material, object and space, and the depth of the artistic images formed. Sumedh’s works  have a fluid,  sensous yet jarring version of reality at odds with itself –isolated and multifarious- playing on space that is open yet within the confines of form, with the absense of an obvious grounding element which is instead indicated by the fluidity and malleability of the materials used.

In contrast there is a brooding quality to the still life photographs of Prajakta Potnis’ works. In a confined space, we are given access to the private life of a vegetable while it ruminates its mortality. The frame of the still life – the inside of a refrigerator - partially darkened, serves as a room, a private space - while the subjects of the still life – a cauliflower, groups of tomatoes - form portraits.  But there is a duality inherent in the shelf life of a vegetable in a refrigerator and the growth of other bodies (organic) that attach themselves to the vegetable as it sits in hibernation. The time element between portraiture (eternal) conflicts with that of a living thing (transient) within a space that is intended as a tomb. Amidst these frictions, the irrepressibility of growth in whatever form (seeping, crawling, gestating and perhaps encroaching) becomes a nefarious action; a hidden act of survival in mutated form.

There is no escaping the implication of the contact between the organic and the inorganic. In Potnis’ case, the battleground is a private affair carried out within the confines of the organic body, where the action occurs in terms of change and violence within the body, at a microscopic level, rather like the faces of George Condo’s portraits, where the interaction between subject and environment entombs itself on the face of the subject by way of organic growth that is just below the skin, pulling the face in a grotesque parody of court jesters. It is the growth reaction that sets off a melancholy in the environment. In contrast, the works of Sumedh and Joag indicate an awareness in the inorganic, a playfulness, and a willingness of the inorganic, the man made, to conjoin with the organic, where the conflict is oft times, not couched in overtly antagonistic terms yet has wider implications that stem from without rather than from within the organic. The three works postulate together, the transference of consciousness from organic matter to inorganic matter that is physical and material, the ordered organic and the unexpected eruptive/disruptive fractures of unstoppable mutations/growth, and the absurdity and inevitability of such mutations.

In K. P. Reji’s works on canvas the line between private and public is deliberately blurred; as such a frame is removed. Just as the walls in his constructions of houses are removed and stripped of their protective measures, so are the protagonists of their garb. Reji’s works usually work as tableaus, with several figures performing acts on/within the same visual plane. The removal of hierarchies, of planes of action effectively removes comparisons of inside and outside. Yet again there is a conflict between the acts of being and the transient nature of being.  More importantly there is subtle friction between the two that also extends to the telling of disjointed narratives, occurring simultaneously on the same plane.

 Zakkir Hussain’s works on paper are inhabited by strange creatures. Mutilated, funny, pathetic and evocative, they give off a sense of intense psychological churn bordering on the disruptive. This violence of vision, thought and internal struggle, manifests itself in bold and disturbing visuals that draw us into a nether world within. Sometimes quiet and at others aroused and bursting outward, serving as a reminder that at a micro or a macro level we have to contend with ourselves.

Gieve Patel’s bronze sculptures from the Eklavya/Daphne series provide in this exhibition a nexus between ‘branching and breaking’[viii]. Taken from Greco-Roman mythology and Indian mythology, the stories of a water nymph (Daphne) who rejects the love of Apollo and is transformed into a laurel by the Gods to escape the attentions of the Sun God, and Eklavya, a young prince of a confederation of jungle tribes who, in order to enhance his knowledge teaches himself archery, but attains such skill that he quickly becomes a threat to the ruling order, who demand that in return for scholarship, for knowledge so attained he provide payment by presenting his right thumb severed from its hand to his teacher. Thus returning the knowledge attained by unsanctioned learning.  In the words of Ranjit Hoskote,

Both Daphne and Eklavya are figures maimed or ruined by forces that demanded their submission: the nymph who defies the sun-god’s lust, the hunter who dares to equal the warrior-prince, both punished for their transgression. Patel interprets both figures, and other presences from myth, dream and waking life, with the energy of an artist responding vigorously to the promptings of his material. The impress of the shaping hand is everywhere in these works: in the textures of flow and knot; in heads that turn sharply on their shoulders; in the twisting of a wrist and the torsion of a female body that is vulnerable as a girl and resilient as the earth; in mouths that open to allow water and weeds to gush out, images that mark a persistence of concern from Patel’s paintings, being strongly reminiscent of such paintings of Patel’s from the 1980s as ‘Crushed Head’ and ‘Drowned Woman’. Breaking and branching are the crucial movements that captivate his attention: nodes of pain, but also of growth.’

 This nexus of growth and pain is echoed by the transgression of hierarchies that dictate the linear transference of knowledge -which assumes superiority- as well as the physical nature of conquest. In both, the physical precedes and conquers the nature of knowledge (reason, harmony and the transfer of knowledge), while recourse or survival occurs only in the physical realm (the transfer of consciousness into a different physical matter and the payment of a thumb as a token of knowledge). However the gap between the physical and the state into which knowledge is contained is not as vast as it may seem. Knowledge is also ingrained into the memory of the body, into the organs of the body, such as the skin, sense, smell etc, all of which form memory along with a physical impression. Using the fingers for example to transfer memory, sense and feel by using a physical material to create a form also underlines the above while creating a transference of consciousness that leaves an indelible impression in the form of the solidity of form; a body of evidence that states the fact of a physical presence.  To go from ideas of knowledge to the physical nature of knowledge (whether carnal or skill based) the body is needed as a mediator. In the case of Gieve Patel’s works the placement of the body in a physical form not only delineates the lingering presence of a body but also informs the landscape and the absence that it may form into and out of. The presence and the absence of a body, its surroundings and the forms it may take, to transfer consciousness, knowledge or simply its own potential for abstraction forms an imprint that resonates with its own unique tonality.

The effort of the exhibition is to extend multiplicity and simultaneity to the collection of works herein. They are not linked by a linear narrative, concept or theme. However they are bordered by the walls of the space within which they are simultaneously exhibited, and are also therefore free to activate the space they inhabit, free to associate with other works, as incongruent absurdities in relation to one another, as rhizomatic connections, as interruptions of hierarchies or a discordant strum of poetic logic, unfolding in privately held time or publically and collectively acknowledged time. They provide multiple visions, spaces, and narratives.

Furthermore they create open-ended movements that generate transference of consciousness of form and content and the incongruent nature of reality and fictions, and rather than display a fixedity in narrative form, they seek shifting modes through which to travel. As such each artist forms a center, where each work is treated on its own terms and left free to associate with other centers. 

The attempt is also to engage the viewer to view time as a uniquely individual concern rather than a linear structure that runs throughout the exhibition. To go further, the works in the exhibition though thematically, contextually and in form, are and can be seen as disparate objects, they can also be seen as objects whose established history and place in a canon as being separate from the works themselves, although available to lend context (though it is up to the viewer to seek history), and it is in this co-dependence yet isolation where each work takes on a character and an individuality that allows a viewer to choose their own entry and exit.  

Renuka Sawhney August 7, 2012

Renuka Sawhney is a writer based in New York.

[i] International Congress of Aesthetics 2007 “Aesthetics Bridging Cultures” Among Several Cultures and Times Gulammohammed Sheikh
[ii] Horn Please, In Conversation with Gulammohammed Sheikh.
[iii] Horn Please, In Conversation with Gulammohammed Sheikh.
[iv] Horn Please, In Conversation with Gulammohammed Sheikh.
[v] International Congress of Aesthetics 2007 “Aesthetics Bridging Cultures” Among Several Cultures and Times Gulammohammed   
[vi] Catalogue, “Place for People”. Bombay and New Delhi, 1981
[vii] Francias Bacon and Walt Disney (1972) by John Berger
[viii] To Break and to Branch, Ranjit Hoskote